Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Free Music Downloads to Help Calm Your Dog

The company Through a Dog's Ear is offering free music downloads this week.  One new download each day.  This music is designed to help calm and relax your dogs.  With the hectic holiday season, not a bad idea!  http://www.throughadogsear.com/7_days_2010.htm

Monday, October 4, 2010

To Touch or be Touched Part 2

One of the fundamental exercises I teach in my dog training classes is targeting.  Targeting refers to teaching your dog to touch a “target.” It can be an open hand, your fingers or a target stick. It is a simple behavior that has a wide variety of applications and is very versatile. Once you teach your dog to target your hand, it is easy to move on to touching other objects. I like to use the word “touch” as my verbal cue. Teaching your dog to touch a person’s open hand can help with:

1) Overcoming hand shyness and building confidence to approach strangers.  This is great for shy dogs or the fearful dog.

2) Teaching dogs to walk by your side by touching your palm when it is next to your body.

3) Teaching dogs to approach strange objects

4) Teaching dogs to open and shut doors and other objects

5) Teaching dogs to touch or ring a bell to go potty.

6) Teaching dogs to follow your hand to go up ladders, through hoops and other agility props.

7) To help redirect your dog’s attention from something else (barking dog, scary person, etc)

8) Using it as a form of recall (come to you). Many dogs are more responsive to “touch” then the word “come.”

Here is a video explaining how to teach your dog to target and a series of clips showing how the “touch” command can be applied to different circumstances:

Los Angeles Dog Trainer: www.pawsitivefeedback.com

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Akita Greeting - Putting Vocalizations on Cue

Akitas can be very vocal with their owners.  They like to howl, whoo-hoo and even grunt.  I decided to take advantage of this fact and every day when I get up I get a wonderful Akita greeting.

Whenever I hear this I get all warm and fuzzy inside!  Now if your dog tries to use the vocalization when you don't ask her/him to, then ignore the times your dog does it on his/her own and only praise/pet/reward when your dog does it on cue.  For incessant vocalizers, you may need to put "ssshhh" or "hush" on cue as well.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

To Touch and Be Touched Part I

In my classes there are two fundamental lessons I like to teach. The first, is teaching your dog to tolerate being touched by humans and grabbed by the collar. The second is teaching a dog to target.  For those of you who have taken my classes, this is the verbal cue "touch."  In this two part series, I will discuss why each skill is important.

Tolerating touches from humans is an important skill, especially for puppies. It is important for puppies to get used to being handled by humans because there are many situations where they will be touched or examined by strangers. Therefore it is important that they get used to:

• Having their ears, paws and toes touched so that they will be used to it when they go to the vet or groomer.

• Being grabbed by the collar or led by the collar because many people instinctively grab dogs by the collar without first considering whether it is safe to do so.

• Being petted on different parts of the body, having their tails touched and pats on the head because that’s what children tend to do when they meet a dog.

• Having their body examined because you may have to remove a tick or remove a foxtail from their fur/paw.

For these reasons and many others, it is important to desensitize a dog to these sensations. It is important to do it in baby steps and not rush things so that your dog considers this a pleasant experience. Below is a video showing some steps on getting your dog used to being handled in general:

Some dogs dislike or are startled when they are grabbed by the collar. My Shiba Inu, Mitsu, like many Shiba Inus is sensitive and prickly about having certain body parts handled. So it is important to teach them that being grabbed by the collar is a good thing. Here is a video showing some ways to get your dog used to having a collar/harness taken on and off and being grabbed and led by the collar:

 Next time we will cover the versatility of targeting. In the meantime, happy training!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

On the benefits of clicker training

In my group classes I give people the option of using a clicker to train their dogs.  Personally, I have found this to be a useful and effective training tool for my own dogs.  Clickers can have many advantages over other methods of training:

1)  The clicker sounds the same every time -  every time we press the clicker, it sounds basically the same.  It is a clear and consistent signal to the dog that he/she did something correctly and will be rewarded for it.  Our human voices, however, can vary especially if we are happy, excited, nervous, frustrated, tired or impatient.

2)  Most animals have only positive associations with clickers - because of the nature of clicker training (i.e. click followed by reward), most animals have positive associations with clickers.  There are a few animals that are scared of clickers when initially introduced to them so it is always best to first muffle the sound of the sound of the clicker to make sure your dog is not is not scared of it.

3) Often helpful with rescues - I have found that clickers often work well with rescues.  Most rescues have no previous association with clickers so they find the experience unique and interesting.  For dogs that may have been exposed to earlier harsh training methods, the clicker does not evoke negative associations with previous training techniques. Again, with fearful dogs, introductions to the clicker should be done carefully. 

4)  Does not require physical prompting or manipulation of dogs - if done correctly, clicker training does not require physical prodding or manipulation of the animal.  

5)  Better focus and clearer communication - because of the unique sound and consistency in the signal, I find that clickers provide better focus.  Sometimes, dogs learn to tune out human voices and certain words (especially when words are repeated over and over again).  Clickers often work well with young puppies and their short attention spans.

6)  Better timing - because the clicker's sound is very precise and requires only a press of a button, we can mark or capture desired behaviors more accurately.  With certain behaviors (e.g. "watch me"), we need precise timing to mark the point when the dog correctly performs the task at hand (i.e. your dog makes eye contact which can be just a fleeting moment).

7)  Works across species- perhaps one of the most amazing aspects of clicker training (or the use of any similar marker) is the fact that it works for species other than dogs.  Think about the dolphin at a marine park (the trainer in this case uses a whistle).  Karen Pryor, who popularized the use of clickers with dogs, was able to train a hermit crab to ring a bell!    Below is a video of me clicker training my cat to perform some of the very same behaviors that I teach in my dog training classes.  Who said cats aren't smart!  This is the same cat that knows how to open food storage containers from my previous blog.

Are there times when I don't have a client use a clicker?  Absolutely.  For families with young children, clickers may be too tempting a toy for the children to play with thus confusing the dog.  In some cases, for the very fearful dog, even a soft clicker may be too much and some dogs are more comfortable with the human voice.  Finally, some people are not comfortable working with a clicker and trying to juggle the leash and treats.  In such cases, I substitute the word, "yes" to mark the desired behavior in place of the clicker.  Some of my clients have also made clucking sounds with their tongues instead of holding a clicker!

If you would like to learn more about clicker training here are a few of my favorite books:

Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor - the book that promoted not only positive reinforcement dog training but the use of clicker training with dogs. 

Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor - explains the science behind clicker training with entertaining anecdotes and personal stories from the author, Karen Pryor.

Click to Calm by Emma Parsons - one of my favorite books for dealing with the reactive dogs.  Has easy to follow instructions and exercises to address reactivity/aggressive behavior.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pet Projects - The Vacuum Vigilante Revisited

It has been almost a month since I have been working with my 11-year shiba inu on her vacuum issues.

Last month we used interactive dog toys and training to teach her alternative behaviors to attacking the vacuum cleaner. If you missed this blog, you can follow this link to see how we trained her: http://pawsitivefeedback.blogspot.com/2010/05/vacuum-vigilante.html

In addition to the training shown in these videos, I also used the clicker to reward her for non-reactive behavior. So after a few weeks, I rewarded her whenever the vacuum was running and she either stayed on her bed without me asking or she simply did not react to the vacuum.

Let's see how she is doing so far:

In the video you can see there is still a little temptation to go for the vacuum, but she is much more relaxed and less reactive. So a little more work will help her become more reliable and consistent in her response to the vacuum.

So, for an 11-year old dog with a life-long history of reactivity towards the vacuum, she has come around quite nicely. Being a clicker-trained dog also helps with behavior modification. She is flexible and quick to figure out what behaviors elicit rewards.


Friday, May 7, 2010

The Vacuum Vigilante

Most dog trainers have several pet projects going on with their own dogs. My 11 year old shiba inu is what you would call a feisty gal. She is the most fearless dog I have ever met. At 6 months old she was part of the Nisei Week parade in Little Tokyo. While we were waiting our turn on the parade route, we were parked next to the Taiko drums. The Taiko drums went off and the other dogs were understandably frightened. Not Mitsu. She looked around as if she was thinking, “hey where’s the party at?” She has been to loud and frenetic places like Las Vegas strip and fireworks do not phase her.

However, she does have one little quirk that I have now made my “pet” project. It is her battles with the dreaded vacuum machine monster. She will attack the machine and will try to bite it and shake it. The loud noise, the lights, the annoying power cord, all of it sets her off. If the vacuum is in another room she does not pay attention. She is not afraid of the machine, she just does not want it in the living room where she hangs out. So how does one deal with the feisty vacuum machine vigilante?

Management: For years, I simply managed the situation. She went into her crate and she calmly waited for the chore to be over with. While in her crate she just fell asleep and did not bark at the vacuum. Sometimes, management is the simplest and easiest way to deal with non-fearful but mildly annoying behavior. However, as you will see in the video below, it did not change my dog's attitude towards the vacuum.

Redirection and Distraction: this year I decided to employ a different strategy; redirection and distraction. My dog has always loved her interactive dog toys so for the last two weeks she has been getting her Kong, Tug-A-Jug or Kibble Nibble when I vacuum. She has been getting these toys only when I vacuum which is very frequent right now because my dogs are blowing their coats. If you missed my review of interactive dog toys, go to: http://pawsitivefeedback.blogspot.com/2010/01/interactive-dog-and-cat-toys.html.

These toys not only distract my dog so I can complete my chores but it also has the effect of associating the vacuum with her fun, interactive toys. Here is a video of my dog before the introduction of her toys (about two weeks ago) and during the process of giving her toys when I need to vacuum the floor:

Note: my dog chose to be around the vacuum cleaner. In the case of the Kong, I kept putting it on her bed and in her crate while the vacuum was running but she preferred to work on it in the middle of the floor. Other dogs may prefer to work on these toys in a far corner, in their pen/crate or in a nearby room.

Teach Your Dog an Incompatible Behavior: another strategy is to teach your dog what you want her to do instead. Ideally, it should be a behavior that is incompatible with what she has been doing. Teaching your dog to go to her bed and stay is an example of a behavior that is incompatible with being on the floor and attacking the vacuum. I also started this training with Mitsu. Make sure your dog is solid with these behaviors before attempting it with a vacuum. In Mitsu's case she has a pretty solid command of "bed" and "stay." Here is an example of the beginnings of this type of training:

Dogs who are afraid of the vacuum: in this case, my dog is not afraid of the vacuum. She views it as an unwelcome, noisy intruder. For some dogs, especially with some young puppies, the vacuum can be a frightening contraption. In such cases, introduction to the vacuum cleaner should be gradual. Let the puppy get used to the vacuum machine being in the room while the engine is off. Let her inspect the machine while it is just sitting in the room. You can even put treats leading up to the vacuum and on top of the vacuum while the engine is off. Leave the machine in the same room for several days and put treats around the machine to encourage your dog to come up to it. Simulate the movement of the vacuum by moving it around in the same room with the engine off. You may want to use a crate or play pen so your dog does not get in the way. Let her get used to the noise when it not as intense by vacuuming in another room. When you begin vacuuming in another room, let the puppy work on a Kong or bully stick to distract her. Do this for a few days so your dog gets used to the noise. If your dog is unperturbed by the noise, gradually start working in a room closer to the puppy and repeat the process. When your puppy is ready, work in the same room as the puppy and make sure she has her Kong or chew stick available in her crate/pen.

Next month, we will see how Mitsu is doing with her old nemesis. Who says you can’t teach an old dog something new!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

When dog training goes out the window . . .

This is where the "management" part of dog training comes into play. When your dog has a "little helper" opening food bins, those food bins need to be "cat-proofed" and off the floor:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sometimes you and your dog need a little one-on-one time

Often when we want to do something with our dogs we default to taking our dogs to the dog park. We get to sit on a park bench and watch our dogs run around and play. Well, that’s fun for the dog isn’t it? While the dog park increases your dog’s interaction with other dogs, it does not necessarily forge the bond between you and your dog. Often when we are training our dogs we need to develop a better bond and ways of communicating with our dogs. This is especially true when your dog heads into young adulthood/adolescence and increasing your dog’s reliability to commands becomes a bigger priority. Now that Spring has arrived, here are some other ways to have fun with your dog and build on that training from puppy class or basic obedience:

Hiking: taking long, vigorous walks with your dog can be very fulfilling. Hiking trails are filled with sights and sounds that city dogs do not often experience and therefore stimulate your dog’s senses. Hiking trails are often graded so you and your dog get a good workout. Most city and state hiking trails require your dog to be on leash or risk a hefty fine. For safety, stay on marked trails. Often wilderness trails are off-limits to dogs because of the negative impact on wildlife. Bring water for you and your dog so both of you remain well hydrated because on a summer day your dog can easily overheat. It is also advisabe to make sure your dog is protected with flea, tick and, if appropriate for your geographic area, heartworm medications/remedies. The following books are great resources for hiking with your dog:

Hiking with your dog by Gary Hoffman

Favorite Dog Hikes in and around Los Angeles by Wynne Benti

Best Hikes with Dogs: Southern California by Allen Riedel

Training activities: often I take my dog to a public park and just train her. She enjoys training and I sometimes use a long line (a 20-30 foot canvas leash) to work on my dog’s “stay” and recalls. When working with a long line, make sure that the end is held so that your dog cannot run away. Also make sure you work in an area where a lot of dogs will not interfere with your training. As a reward for completing these exercises you can play with toys, go for a run or let your dog then play with other dogs. Agility, flyball and nosework classes are other activities that help reinforce the bond between you and your dog.

Playing games: there are many games you can play with your dog. Play is a great way to reinforce the relationship with your dog and make training more fun. Hide and seek reinforces your dog’s recall and dogs love trying to “find” their owners. The more excited you are when your dog finds you, the more rewarding your dog will find coming when called. Scent seeking games are also fun for your dog. Hiding objects like stuffed Kongs and asking your dog to “find it” also stimulate your dog's olfactory senses. Tug of War or fetch can also be used in lieu of a food reward for a dog with good bite inhibition and who knows what “drop it” means. I use tug of war as a reward instead of treats to reinforce my dog’s training. For example, you can ask your dog to do a down-stay and when you release your dog you can play a fun game of tug of war or fetch.

There are interactive dog toys you can use to play with your dogs. See http://pawsitivefeedback.blogspot.com/2010/01/interactive-dog-and-cat-toys.html for some ideas.

There also many books with fun ideas of games to play with your dog. For example:

Play with your Dog by Pat Miller:

So with all this nice weather we have been having, think of some creative ways for you to interact with your dog and reinforce all that great training your dog knows.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What is a Leash Reactive or Leash Aggressive Dog?

Recently, I started a workshop for leash reactive or leash aggressive dogs and their owners. I have found that many people who have reactive dogs enroll in group classes hoping that the group setting will help their dog grow accustomed to being around other dogs. Mildly reactive dogs usually get used to a class situation after a few weeks but other dogs may find the setting too overwhelming. In other cases, a dog might be reactive to a particular type of dog or in a specific setting that the group class cannot mimic. Usually people who enroll these dogs in class have recently adopted the dog and are often are more interested in helping the dog get used to other dogs than general obedience. So I started the workshops to specifically address this behavior because in the basic group classes the focus is on general obedience and the level of training required for the reactive dog requires a different focus and skill set.

A frequent question I receive is “what is a leash reactive dog”? The term “reactive” is somewhat vague. Although it is a term that is commonly used in the dog training world, the term can have various connotations to your average dog owner. Reactivity in dogs can manifest itself as lunging, jumping, rearing up like a stallion, snarling, growling, barking and overexcitement. A leash-reactive dog is one that is especially reactive while on a leash. Interestingly, many leash reactive or leash aggressive dogs are perfectly fine off-leash and many of them play well in dog parks.

So why are dogs more reactive on leash than off-leash? There are several possibilities. One reason is that the leash prevents dogs from behaving the way they would normally behave when they see another dog. For dogs that are overly excited, the leash prevents them from greeting the dog and they react in frustration which devolves into barking and lunging. For fearful dogs, they may perceive that the “flight” part of the “flight or fight response” is not an option because they are stuck on a leash and feel “trapped.” In some cases, the dog reacts in response to tension on the leash because the owner is pulling back on it in anticipation of the encounter. When the dog feels the tension in connection with seeing other canines, the dog may perceive that there is a threat and become more aggressive. Sometimes if the owner jerks on the leash, it is a simple association between seeing a strange dog and pain (from the tightening of the collar).

This behavior can manifest itself at adolescence. A dog that has been socialized as a puppy can still become reactive. Some adolescent dogs can become feisty and test out certain behaviors. My female akita who is now 2 years old started manifesting this behavior at about a year. She had been through puppy kindergarten, basic obedience, intermediate and advanced obedience classes so she had a lot of socialization and been to the dog park etc. Now, she did witness an attack of my 13 year old akita by a neighbor’s loose shepherd while we were on a walk (the neighbor left the front door open and the dog ran from his property) which probably did not help. After the incident, she whined and became vigilant every time we walked by that house. My old akita was unharmed. The two male dogs rolled around before the owner called his dog away and my old guy dusted himself off and trotted away like nothing happened. My old male is a rescue that I adopted as a previously intact two-year old adult and I have a feeling that he was used to minor scuffles with his male and female Akita housemates. But, my female who was still a puppy at the time was left with quite an impression and she started becoming reactive soon after this incident. Granted, there is a breed predisposition for dog aggression in Akitas and she was a feisty adolescent so it is possible that she would have become somewhat leash reactive despite this incident and reactivity can be common in the guarding breeds. For example, in obedience classes, my akita can sit touching (butt-to-butt) with a classmate, but if she sees a strange dog approaching the outskirts of class, she will start barking in alarm. Small dogs can be reactive too so this behavior is not limited to the large dogs. In fact, several dogs in my workshops have been small or toy breeds.

Regardless of the reason why a dog has become leash reactive, it is important to not overreact to the situation. Yelling, scolding and tightening or jerking on the leash can exacerbate the problem and give your dog the false impression that there is something to be worried about. In the case of my Akita, I started a program where I taught her that good things happen when she sees another dog while on a leash. I have also taught her that there are options to standing her ground and lunging. In fact, whenever we pass by the house where the shepherd lives and we see him by the gate, she gets a treat for looking at the dog and then looking at me. Although this seems like a simple routine, it took weeks of training to get her to this point where she could focus on me and there were intermediate steps involved. Eventually, I put this behavior on cue by uttering the phrase, “there’s your friend,” and clicking and treating when she looks at the dog and then looks at me. She then gets another reward for following me past the gate without reacting (this is the options part of the equation where she learns that retreating is an alternative). I use my happy “let’s go” voice and act like nothing is bothering me. With Akitas, retreat is not something they naturally do so it took a lot of training to teach her to ignore other dogs. Luckily, the shepherd has no problem with my female and just sits by the gate staring at our strange little exercise. Slowly, she has gotten less reactive to dogs while on walks and defaults into turning her back on other dogs and sitting facing me whenever another dog is around.

My dog has doggie playmates and has good social skills once she gets to know a dog but my current goals are for her to be calm around unfamiliar dogs and not lunge at them while on a leash. It is not important for me at this time for her to be buddy-buddy with every dog she meets. My goals are realistic for her current stage in this training process because she is a large, strong, rowdy, adolescent that needs to learn a little self-control while on walks and not react on impulse. Sometimes it is more important to have lots and lots of minor successes (not reacting and ignoring a dog) compared to having a few stupendous interactions (doggie play) followed by a bad interaction. It is important to be aware of what your dog can handle and set your dog up for success.

My "Feisty" Dog

Working with a reactive dog is a slow process that requires patience. Using a positive reinforcement and a reward-based system will reap rewards in the long-run. Contact a dog training professional who uses methods based on positive reinforcement and does not use coercive or punitive methods with reactive dogs.

Los Angeles Dog Trainer

Monday, January 25, 2010

Interactive Dog (and Cat) Toys

Boredom and lack of excercise can lead to destructive behavior. In addition to exercise, mental stimulation can help alleviate boredom. There are a number of toys on the market that can keep your dog occupied and enrich your dog's environment. This month, my dogs (and cat) have assisted me in test driving many of the more popular toys on the market.

Interactive toys can be grouped into two categories: toys that involve self-play (dog interacts with toy) and toys that involve your participation. Below is a summary of the various toys on the market, my review of the pros and cons of each and my dogs' response to these toys. The "Mitsu-Meter" (in honor of my crazy Shiba Inu, Mitsu) is a separate rating based primarily on my dogs' reaction to the toy (0 to 5 paws). A higher paw rating is a reflection of the level of interest and enthusiasm my dogs showed towards the toy. If my dogs abandoned the toy before the treats ran out or showed too much frustration, the toy received a lower rating.

With toys, it is always good to have a few different types of toys handy for variety. Rotate the toys through a 2-3 day cycle so they do not get bored too easily.

Unsupervised Play

Some toys can be used when the dog is left alone or for times when you need to keep your dog occupied (e.g. when you have guests over, you are busy at the computer, when you are having a meal). These toys must be fairly indestructible and have no small parts.

Kongs - Kongs are great toys that can be stuffed with your dog's kibble, treats, and other foods. Your dog will spend a lot of time trying to get the contents out of the Kong. Think of it like a doggie pacifier. For heavy chewers the Extreme Kong (black version)would be a better choice. The Kong website has instructions on how to use it with recipes and I also posted a blog about the many uses of Kongs which you can read about here.

Pros: quiet, hard to destroy, also a chew toy, most dogs like them when they are stuffed. Has the potential to keep your dog occupied for up to an hour or more. For novices, just put a few pieces of kibble inside until they get the idea. As your dog becomes more sophisticated, you can stuff the Kong with a mixture of soft and hard treats. Can also be used as a fetch toy or to slow down fast eaters (see my previous blog). Dishwasher safe.

Cons: Can be hard to clean inside. Need to use a dishwasher or bottle brush.

Mitsu-Meter: 5 paws. Never seemed to get bored of them.

Tug-A-Jug - This toy, made by Premier Pet Products, requires the dog to manipulate the jug and rope to try to get the treats out. If you use smaller treats, it is easier for the dog to get the treats. If the rope is destroyed, you can place balls in the jug for continued play. The other nice thing about this toy is that the jug is see-through so the dogs can see the treats inside.

Here are some videos showing my dogs using the Tug-A-Jug and their different styles of trying to get the treat:

Here is Mitsu, who has a very boisterous trial-and-error approach to problem solving. She is a very intense little dog who is very food motivated.

This is my two year old Akita, Kiku, who takes a little more patient and systematic approach to problem solving:

Pros: You can use dry food which is a little less messy than the Kong. Dogs can see the food in the jug. Fairly durable.

Cons: Can get noisy if used indoors (see video). May not be durable for very strong chewers but so far it has withstood my akita's jaws.

Mitsu-Meter: 5 paws. Dogs were very motivated by this toy as you can see from the video. Being able to see the kibble in the jug was very motivating. My Akita enjoyed it more because she was able to figure out a strategy to get the kibble out.

Twist and Treat - Another similar rubber toy called the Twist and Treat is made by Premier. Some of my clients have used this toy and I have seen it in action. This toy is probably better for smaller dogs and less powerful chewers. This toy has the advantage of being adjustable depending on the size threat you are using.  This is one of my favorite toys to use for puppies or dogs that are not used to interactive toys.

Squirrel Dude and Waggle: The Squirrel Dude and Waggle are similar to a Kong in durability and use except there are rubber prongs (see illustration below) at the entrance which make it harder for the treats to fall out. You can use kibble and dry treats with this toy whereas the Kong can be used with moist treats. The smaller the kibble/treat, the easier it is for the treats to be shaken out of the toy. If it is too hard for your dog you can cut some of the prongs to make it easier for the kibble to fall out. Like the Kong, this set of Busy Buddy rubber toys make for quieter playtime.

Pros: quiet, durable, also a chew toy, can be used as a fetch toy, dishwasher safe.

Cons: Need to experiment to find the right size kibble to make sure it is not difficult or too easy or cut one or more of the rubber prongs if too difficult. Hard to get old kibble out because of prongs.

Mitsu-meter: 3.5 paws. My dogs did not show the same level of interest as compared to the Tug-A-Jug or Kibble Nibble (below). My female Akita played with it the longest and ended up carrying it around. My Shiba Inu lost interest when she could not get all the treats out. She did not quite figure out how this toy differed from a Kong. You may need to cut some of the prongs or use smaller treats to make sure the reward interval is sufficient enough to keep up interest.

Buster Cube - The Buster Cube has been on the market a long time. This was one of the original toys I used with my 10 year old Shiba Inu when she was a puppy. Like the Squirrel Dude, the buster cube dispenses dry treats randomly when the dog moves the toy around. You can also adjust the level of difficulty depending on the skills of your dog.

Pros: you can adjust the difficulty level. Fairly durable. Can use kibble which is cleaner.

Cons: noisy, hard to find in stores nowadays but can easily be ordered online. May need supervision for powerful chewers.

Mitus-meter: 4 paws. My dogs do not tire of this toy. But they are much more enthusiastic with the Tug-A-Jug and Kibble Nibble where they can actually see the kibble.

Pros: Bone and ball part are made of tough material(subject to the caveat below).
Cons: Must use premier treats to refill bone. Smart dogs learn to unscrew the bone and can damage the toy (see comment below).

Mitsu-Meter: 2 paws. My female akita learned to unscrew the bone to get at the treat within 10 minutes. Despite my attempt to screw the bone on tighter, she was able to unscrew the bone again in a shorter amount of time. Within the few minutes she unscrewed the bone the second time she chewed the threads making the toy unuseable. This toy may be better for smaller dogs that do not have strong jaws to unscrew the toy and supervision is definitely required.

Kibble Nibble: This is another Premier toy that is similar to the Buster Cube except that the ball is see-through and the dog can see how much kibble is left. It takes some experimentation to determine what size kibble/treat works best so that it is not too easy or too hard.

Here is my Shiba Inu, Mitsu, playing with the ball. She is almost 11 years old now and she is going after the ball with gusto. This video is not sped up, this old gal is actually this frenetic. She ended up playing with this ball for about 15 minutes, did a couple of shiba yells at the ball, got a drink of water and came back for another 10 minutes before I took it away from her. During the video you can see a treat flying out of the ball:

Pros: the egg-shell shape makes it easy for the dog to roll the toy around. The toy is see-through which is very motivating. Can use dry treats so is less messy.

Cons: noisy (see video above), need to experiment to see what size treat works best. I found that for the large Kibble Nibble my own dogs' kibble and the large size liver biscotti treats made by premier worked well. If I found my dogs getting frustrated, I would mix in smaller treats to shorten the reward interval. The plastic edging surrounding the ball can be chewed off so supervision is needed.

Mitsu-Meter: 5 paws. My dogs really enjoyed this toy. Being able to see the treats inside seems to be key with my dogs. They will continue rolling the ball until the last treat is gone.

For cat lovers out there, there is even a cat version. Here is the Slim Cat interactive feeder designed to make your cat work for her food. I have used this feeder for my cat and it helps her burn off some of her energy and give her something fun to do.


There are many, many other versions of food dispensers on the market. These are but a few of the ones that are most commonly available. Premier pet toys and Kongs can be found at most pet stores. When buying toys, make sure that they are durable, do not have too many small parts and are easy to clean and reuse.

Caveat: For people who live in multi-dog households, please give these toys to dogs separately or let them play with their own toys in different areas. These toys can make dogs possessive and fights can occur so exercise caution.

Toys Requiring Owner's Participation

This category of toys are toys that involve the participation of the owner. Examples of traditional toys requiring owner participation are balls, fetch toys, tug of war toys and frisbees. There are also toys that involve problem solving skills. Nina Ottoson has created a whole line of toys which help hone your dog's problem-solving skills and at the same time help develop the bond with your dog. I sampled two toys, the Brick and the Tornado. These toys require human supervision and they must not be left alone with your dog.

The Dog Brick - this toy requires the dog to remove the bricks and slide the covers to get to the treats. The link provided contains an instructional video on how to use this toy. Below is a video I made showing how my dog solved the brick. FOR GRADUATES OF MY CLASSES: use this opportunity to ask your dog to "sit" and "wait"/"stay" while you assemble the toy and then the command "find it" to find the hidden treats.

Pros: Really fun to watch your dog become more proficient at solving the problem. The plastic parts are easy to clean. Good way to bond with your dog. Nice way to quietly play with your dog rather than roughhousing.

Cons: This puzzle may be too easy for some dogs. My Shiba Inu and female Akita figured the toy out fairly quickly. My male akita is still figuring it out. Requires supervision because of small and moving parts.

Mitsu-Meter: 5 paws. Even though my dogs seemed to have figured out this puzzle fairly quickly, they do not get tired of using it.

Dog Tornado: This toy has a higher difficulty rating than the Dog Brick and it is definitly more challenging. What is fun about this toy is that you can potentially put your dog's entire meal (especially for small dogs) in the Tornado thereby slowing down their eating and preventing gulping their food. Again, these toys require your supervision because there are small parts.

Here is a video of my senior male Akita using the dog tornado for the first time and the puzzle is set at an easy setting:

Here is a video of my female akita, who is a little more sophisticated at solving puzzles, using the Tornado at a more advanced setting to make it more difficult to have access to the treats:

And some of these toys are not limited to use for dogs. Even cats can get in on the fun. Here is my cat using the Dog Tornado as a way to keep her occupied and to prevent her from gulping down food too fast.

Pros: Same pros as the Dog Brick. I like this puzzle a little more because it is more difficult and you can use it to feed your pet his/her meal.

Cons: Requires supervision because of small and moving parts.

Mitsu-Meter: 5 paws. Even my shy, reticent male Akita got into this toy.

There are other versions of the Nina Ottoson toys at varying levels of difficulty. The toys I sampled were rated at medium (Dog Brick) and high (Dog Tornado). These toys are available at Amazon and The Company of Animals http://www.companyofanimals.us/index.php.

Which interactive toys are your dog's favorite? Share your experiences below.

Los Angeles Dog Training